MIAMI GRDENS, Fla. (AP)Tua Tagovailoa is in the concussion protocol again, and the Miami Dolphins may not be able to weather his absence this time.

Tagovailoa missed two games earlier this season after he was knocked out on a scary hit in Week 4 at Cincinnati. Miami lost that game and two that Tagovailoa missed. Then he came back and Miami won five straight, improving to 8-3 and moving into first place in the AFC East.

The Dolphins (8-7) haven’t won since, and it’s not clear when they’ll see Tagovailoa on the field again.

Tagovailoa’s head hit the turf when he was tackled in the second quarter of Miami’s 26-20 loss to visiting Green Bay on Sunday, but was not taken out of the game or evaluated for a concussion. Miami coach Mike McDaniel said he doesn’t know for sure if Tagovailoa was concussed on the play.

”As far as the game was concerned, no one recognized anything with regard to any sort of hit,” McDaniel said.

Teddy Bridgewater will practice as the starter this week in case Tagovailoa isn’t cleared in time for Sunday’s division game at New England. McDaniel declined to name a starter.

”It’s too soon to really tell,” McDaniel said. ”You just know that someone goes into the protocol and you have to be ready to really do whatever with that.”

Last season, with a miraculous turnaround and a little good fortune, the Dolphins entered their Week 17 game against Tennessee on a seven-game winning streak, holding the last AFC playoff spot despite a disastrous 1-7 start to the season. Then the Titans beat them 34-3, dismantling their playoff hopes.

This year, the Dolphins started impressively but find themselves in a similarly precarious situation. Miami was undefeated in November but winless in December, including its Christmas Day collapse against Green Bay. The Dolphins again have a precarious hold on the final AFC wild-card spot.

”We’ve been learning hard lessons for the last month of games,” McDaniel said, ”and at some point, if we want to make the next step, we’re going to have to put up or shut up.”

The Dolphins are assured of making the playoffs if they win their final two games against the Patriots and Jets, but they have other paths.

They can make the postseason with a win at New England and a Jets loss against Seattle in Week 17. If Miami beats New England and the Jets beat the Seahawks, the division rivals will face each other with a playoff spot on the line.

If the Dolphins lose to the Patriots but beat the Jets, they would need New England to lose its regular-season finale against Buffalo.

WHAT’S WORKING

Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill continue to make game-changing plays. Both had more than 100 yards receiving Sunday. Waddle had a career-long 84-yard touchdown in the first half and an athletic catch in the fourth quarter where he high-pointed the ball for a 16-yard gain. Hill’s four receptions gave him 113 on the season, breaking Miami’s single-season record.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Dolphins did not have an answer for Green Bay’s second-half adjustments on defense. After going 9-for-12 with 229 yards and a TD in the first half, Tagovailoa was held to seven completions on 13 attempts for 84 yards in the second half. Hill caught just one pass for 20 yards in the second half. It’s not clear whether the hit Tagovailoa took in the second quarter affected his play.

STOCK UP

DT Christian Wilkins had five tackles and two passes defensed. His 86 tackles leads all NFL defensive linemen.

STOCK DOWN

Miami hasn’t been able to sustain drives during its four-game skid. On Sunday, its momentum was stalled by penalties.

”There was some uncharacteristic really, really controllable penalties that were absolutely devastating,” McDaniel said. ”It’s hard to continually move the ball.”

INJURED

Tagovailoa’s would have to advance through the NFL’s five-step process to be cleared to exit the concussion protocol and play next week. … LB Bradley Chubb suffered a hand injury, and FB Alec Ingold injured his thumb. Both players will wear casts, McDaniel said.

KEY NUMBER

65 – The Dolphins have a 65% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. That’s down from 72% last week.

UP NEXT

A New Year’s Day visit to New England. The Dolphins beat the Patriots in their season opener.

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